For most high school seniors, day-to-day life consists of aiming for higher SAT scores and preparing to apply to college. This is not the case, however, for senior Leah Ehrenfreund, who decided to spend six weeks of her fall semester studying at a Schechter Westchester, nearly four thousand miles away from her home in Switzerland.
“It’s a complicated system in Switzerland,” Ehrenfreund said. “If you have good enough grades, you can chose to do an exchange program for two months. It’s common that people redo a year of high school, too. In my school, people are 17, 18, even 21.”
This is the first time that Schechter Westchester has ever had a temporary exchange student. Ehrenfreund contacted Spiritual Advisor and HS Judaic Studies teacher Rabbi Abby Sosland, whose sister Ehrenfreund knows, after Ehrenfreund’s grades in Switzerland prompted her school to offer her the opportunity to spend a few months studying in a foreign country.
“When [Ehrenfreund’s] family learned about [SW], they were excited about her having her study at a New York-based Jewish day school,” HS principal Eric Bassin said. “We thought because of the senior year structure of the various choices, it would be smart to incorporate her into that.”
After the school sent an email to the senior class over the summer asking if anyone was interested in hosting Ehrenfreund for her stay in the U.S., senior Joshua Appelbaum’s family volunteered. Ehrenfreund said she has really enjoyed seeing the differences in the way an American family lives.
She takes classes alongside the seniors, but is still expected to keep up with coursework from her high school in Switzerland. Though at SW she is assessed as an average student, the school is not creating a transcript for her with credits or grades. In many ways, this has helped Ehrenfreund appreciate learning more.
“I like many of my classes here, especially my Rabbinics classes,” she said. “I like debating and talking about things.”
Her experience at SW, however, is very different from the public school she attends in Switzerland. She said SW is much more demanding than school in her home country, and many students in Switzerland do not even attend high school. She said she hopes to stay in high school for a few more years and then plans to study medicine at a university in Switzerland, where she has lived for ten years.
Ehrenfreund was born in Israel, where she learned how to speak Hebrew and French, and moved to Germany when she was a few years old. There, she continued studying French and began learning German. Languages, however, are not her only skill.
“I’ve danced since I was a baby- classical and modern in particular,” she said with a smile. “As for my family, I have an older brother, and when I asked for a dog I just got a half-brother.”
Though she leaves SW on Wednesday to return to Switzerland, Ehrenfreund said she found a welcoming community at SW.
“Everyone here acts especially nice,” she said. “They are all so open-minded.”